CUA Anthropologie Student wearing a fedora

When Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny arrived in movie theaters this summer, much of the marketing focused on it being the final adventure for the fictional archaeologist — and star Harrison Ford. Would it be the last time he dons his fedora?

While it may be the last time for “Indy,” it certainly isn’t for Catholic University’s aspiring archaeologists.

University anthropology and archaeology graduates eagerly put on a lookalike hat for the first time following Commencement ceremonies May 13. The newest anthropology and archaeology alumni gathered for a ceremony inside Hannan Hall where Clinical Associate Professor Joshua Samuels and Assistant Professor Laura Masur awarded fedoras just like the famed adventurer’s. 

“Receiving my hat from my mentors from the anthropology department at CatholicU was the highlight of graduation,” said Maria M. Letizia, B.A. 2022. 

The 15-year-old tradition formerly occurred when anthropology and archaeology majors successfully completed their comprehensive exams in the fall of their last year. Several years ago it became a post-commencement rite.

Masur teaches Introduction to Archaeology each semester and starts with a clip from Indiana Jones films to lay out the realities of the profession versus the blockbuster image. That context can be necessary for some students. The previous Indiana Jones franchise installment was Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, released in 2008. Current students were just starting school at the time. Is receiving a fedora on the level of, say, Captain America’s shield or Thor’s Mjolnir hammer?

“At least 50% of the students have seen Indiana Jones and they still know it,” Masur said.

Generation Xer (Gen Xer) Samuels said, “I think anyone who grew up in the ’80s was a fan of Indiana Jones. I didn’t become an archaeologist because of the movies, but they certainly planted a seed. It’s not until you get older that you start seeing the franchise, and Indiana Jones himself, with a more critical lens. Nowadays I appreciate him for the visibility he lends to our field — How many other academic specialties have their own superhero? — but also for the many teachable moments about heritage ethics that his problematic adventures showcase.”

Samuels and Masur both emphasized that there’s a drastic difference between how the Indiana Jones character approaches archaeology and how those who toil in the profession do. The titular character of the movie series often had murky reasons and end results for his quests.

Added Samuels, “The anthropology faculty teaches our students how to advance dialogue and mutual respect to build bridges between communities. For archaeologists, this means understanding how knowledge of the past gets used in the present for recreational, economic, and political purposes, and how this impacts different stakeholder communities. Graduates from our archaeology program, therefore, get extensive practical training in field and lab methods, but also in consultation and community engagement to prepare them for successful careers in cultural resource management and related fields.”

The message connected with his students. Letizia, now an access services technician in Mullen Library, said, “While there may be some ethical and methodological issues with Indy, his presence on the screen aids in teaching people about anthropology as he is someone who many have heard about, which allows for educational moments on such topics.”

— M.P.